How to get digital-fit for a global sporting event

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If you’re in the business of delivering content or data to sports fans during a major event like the World Cup or Wimbledon, you feel as much pressure as the world-class athletes everyone is tuning in to watch. Ensuring your systems and apps will perform during these big events puts pressure on the entire business, and it’s those who oversee delivering these digital services who feel it most.

Hemna Juneja, Head of Application Support at Perform, is well experienced in delivering under pressure. She leads the teams responsible for preparing the company’s systems and apps that enable well-known brands like Opta, Sporting News and Goal to deliver timely and accurate content and data on the most watched global sporting events, such as the World Cup. With 156M monthly users to their media sites, 1,000+ B2B clients, and over 19,000 matches broadcasted live on DAZN last year, Perform has worked hard to provide a best-in-class customer experience with minimal disruption during peak events such as the World Cup.

Here, Hemna shares a few of the most important best practices from her software teams’ 2018 World Cup preparation strategy. 

1. Prepare well in advance

“The more testing you do the better”, explains Hemna. “You need to ensure core services, such as live streaming and sports data, are load tested well in advance. Performance issues often come down to getting more traffic than usual.” This includes using monitoring tools to ensure you understand the capabilities of your platform under the expected traffic around an event and can react to performance changes and stress on the system as the traffic load increases. 

“Our operations team have ‘eyes on glass’ with New Relic to keep tabs on what is going on across our systems”, explains Hemna, “and we regularly analyse this data and revaluate where we are. This means we are proactively monitoring the platform and not waiting for fans to report an issue.”

2. Know your pressure points 

“Applications are now so complex, they need to be designed for failure with exception-handling built into the system with logging for example. The applications also need to be tolerant of sudden increases in pressure, so auto-scaling is essential to handling when traffic peaks unexpectedly.”  

When preparing for a major event like the World Cup, it is important that digital media companies are prepared for the unexpected. While it is unlikely that something will fail completely, you need to have the right monitoring tools in place, and key metrics, so that you have immediate visibility and can quickly focus on where problems are occurring in your software and how to fix them. 

As Hemna explains, there can often be an organisational pressure point as well. “Over the past few years Perform has moved away from a monolithic architecture to using lots of microservices, and this is only increasing. We made this architecture change to scale efficiently to meet growing customer demand, but there must be a transition period to make sure the teams responsible for these systems can adapt to this mindset shift. When you have thousands of microservices, any one of which could fail at any time. That is a mental challenge.”

3. Put the fans first

“For Perform, there is an ever-greater demand for more accurate data. Coaches want rich, accurate, data and fans want the same in-depth analysis. People don’t just want to know who won the match, but instead they want to understand how and why their team won. Demand for this type of data is financially valuable as well. Our key performance measure is whether we are getting the right content to the right users at the right time, and whether it is provided in a way that gives the best user experience possible.”

Businesses must be aware of the key consumer trends driving their respective markets. They must be flexible to deliver content across different channels including mobile apps, video, real-time data charts, social and emerging platforms such as voice-enabled assistants and chatbots. 

It’s up to their software teams to ensure these varied digital services perform and are available to fans. When Perform launched the OptaJoe World Cup quiz for Alexa, their software teams faced a new series of opportunities as well as challenges. “I think this is absolutely something we will see more of. Platforms like Alexa enable us to capture key match facts, and connect with the audience in a more engaging way, but there are also new monitoring challenges, for example predicting when traffic will peak on these new kinds of devices,” says Hemna.

4. Be open to opportunity

Giving teams the tools and training they need to be effective now and several years down the line is an important part of continuing to bring new digital experiences that engage and inspire customers. As Hemna explains, “empowering teams is important. Technology is changing so much, but we need to trust and empower development and operations teams in how to use it. Companies often don’t invest in this or training and feel off guard.”

“When I think about the next World Cup or another major sporting event, there are an exciting range of possibilities out there. For development teams ready to embrace the future there are significant opportunities around artificial intelligence, which could deliver new business value for media businesses as well as new career paths for the software teams. Technology could help automate repetitive tasks for support teams, such as service and capacity management, or predict traffic which would help us to plan in a more efficient manner.” 

Eveline Oehrlich, Director, EMEA Market Strategy at New Relic 

Image Credit: Stux / Pixabay